Gluten and the Gut
With cold and flu season just around the corner, it’s a good time to be considering the condition of our immune system. It’s no secret that a weak immune system can leave us open to every stray germ that comes our way, and for those who work with the public or have small children, the chance of exposure is almost unavoidable. A strong immune system can be our best friend during the winter season, but what can we do to help strengthen it?
It turns out that 70 to 80 percent of our immune system resides in the gut, which is called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), so it makes sense that the health of our digestive tract plays a huge role in keeping our whole body healthy.
The digestive tract is the home of millions of microbes, called a microbiome, that keep everything in working order. Not surprisingly, what we eat has an effect on our microbiome. Gluten specifically can cause changes in our gut bacteria, including a reduction in some types of important microbes, and can affect the immune system that resides there. For those with a gluten sensitivity, the components that gluten is broken down into signal the GALT that they are problems and it reacts by creating antibodies to fight the problem. This in turn creates an attack on the enzymes that break down gluten, causing a loss of nutrition absorption.
Although this starts as a gut problem, it quickly affects the rest of the body. Gluten can cause the cells in the intestines to produce a protein called zonulin, which breaks down the connectivity in the intestinal walls. This allows anything in the intestines to leak into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, causing the myriad of seemingly unrelated symptoms that often accompany gluten intolerance.
What can we do in addition to avoiding gluten to help maintain gut/immune system health? Eat more prebiotic containing foods (such as asparagus, garlic and bananas), avoid antibiotics unless there is a serious need for them and exercise regularly (which can increase the beneficial gut microbes). Many holistic doctors also feel strongly that even if we have not been diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity, avoiding it is very beneficial to gut health and can aid in promoting a healthy immune system.
Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro, located at 5845 N. Oracle Rd., in Tucson, is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Connect at 520-408-9000. See ad, page 43.